In My Words: We need to do more than hear voices. We need to listen.

This column by Jaden Dakwa '21 appeared in The Fayetteville Observer and focuses on the need to not just hear but to listen during these challenging times.

By Jaden Dakwa ’21

As I’ve watched live scenes on CNN from Minneapolis, almost reminiscent of a war zone, I’m realizing the preeminent issue in the United States of America.

We never take the time to listen to black voices. We just hear them.

When former National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick protested by taking a knee during the pre-game national anthem in 2016, some criticized his attempt to voice his political and social opinions.

President Donald Trump took it further and questioned whether Kaepernick should remain a citizen.

On a Fox News program, Trump declared, “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”

Trump never attempted to listen to the perspective of a prominent black man who wanted to see changes made in a country that has been tormented with issues of race relations for hundreds of years.

Our president’s attitude is just a microcosm of a myriad of issues that stem from not listening. There is a distinct difference between hearing and listening. When people hear a voice, they just perceive the sound of the voice. People hear black voices speaking out against racism and these voices fall on deaf ears. But true change comes through active listening. When you truly listen to someone you allow yourself to pay full attention to that voice. When Officer Derek Chauvin and three other police officers didn’t listen to George Floyd’s last plea to breathe, outraged protesters turned to a language so loud that anyone could hear, but more importantly anyone would listen to.

Until then, people did not realize the real pain being felt in the black community and start enough conversations based on promoting real change.

Protesting, rioting and looting is getting the world to finally pay attention. If we got your attention, it means you listened. There is no question that destruction of our community is wrong. The bigger picture tells us that the hearts of African Americans all over this country are broken. My hope is despite how ugly the reactions may be, people will be desperate to help repair our hearts. These protests were the last gasp effort to get America to stop and pay attention.

Imagine a country that is willing to devote this much passion every day to ensure black lives feel valued – where the standards of inclusion would motivate us more than the presence of protests.

Before the death of George Floyd, a pandemic was our nation’s paramount focus. A deadly virus that left black people desperate as they are twice as likely to die from COVID-19. People are now taking to the streets risking their own health to express their pain and outrage. African Americans are really tired. In fact, they are tired of being tired. But more importantly this level of chronic fatigue will only continue to ail us while we are just being heard. We are pleading for people to please listen.

This state of anarchy reflects the weariness of a country witnessing a black man being killed by a knee held unyieldingly on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds.

An uprising predicated on a feeling that Trayvon Martin, Philando Castile, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery and so many more have died in vain as another black life was deprived of the basic need to breathe at the hands of the police.

A tumultuous rebellion against a negligent government that did not protect its citizens to the best of its ability during a global pandemic, leaving African Americans to be disproportionately affected by a deadly virus.

An insurgence outraged that a black and Latino journalist could be arrested on live TV. As an aspiring young black journalist, I watched as his credentials were recklessly questioned and his hands holding the access to our First Amendment rights were shackled in handcuffs.

Disorderly unrest fueled by the lack of acknowledgment of white privilege and its destructive ability to impede understanding.

If America only hears black voices throughout these protests and does not listen, our country could be on the cusp of crumbling into irreversible divisions that can never be mended.

We are taught that the United States is made up of disparate states that gloriously revolted to unite into one democratic body. But we are still never truly united as long as we ignore each other.

Police and criminal justice reform combined with active listening, empathizing and expressing understanding could begin to dismantle the stoic structures of oppression within our country.

African Americans would no longer be plagued by mass incarceration as harsh policies are altered and racial profiling in the criminal justice system becomes obsolete.

An unrelenting will to create a better future would lead to progress to ensure that black voices and lives do matter.

Whatever is done in the dark eventually comes to light. Every night, the sun sets on the United States of America we settle in the comfort of our homes and ignore the imperative responsibility to value black lives. When the sun rises, we repeat the process by disregarding and refusing to join the fight for equality. Each morning, all of us should be resolute in our pursuit to protect 41 million treasured lives.

In light of all the emotional pain I am feeling, as an African American man I am inspired and hopeful that these ongoing protests could inspire an inaugural effort in our country’s entire history to listen. I’m hopeful for a country where police brutality will become an infrequent occurrence instead of a perilous burden the entire black community continually bears. I’m hopeful that majority of Americans are good and decent citizens. I’m hopeful of the recent events of men and women in blue joining hands and hearts together with protesters by way of support. This indicates to me that there is active listening.

This could be our country’s last chance to listen. When the listening starts, the progress starts.

Views expressed in this column are the author’s own and not necessarily those of Elon University.